Welcome to Flashback Friday: Take Me Out to 34 Ballparks, a celebration, critique and countdown of every major league ballpark one baseball fan has been fortunate enough to visit in a lifetime of going to ballgames.
BALLPARK: Citi Field
HOME TEAM: New York Mets
VISITS: 51 regular-season games, 1 exhibition game, 2 open workouts, 3 off-field events
FIRST VISITED: April 3, 2009
FIRST OFFICIAL GAME ATTENDED: April 16, 2009
CHRONOLOGY: 33rd of 34
RANKING: 16th of 34
There’s a Citi Field I can’t stand and never will. There’s a Citi Field I think is OK. There’s a Citi Field of which I’ve grown fond and feel increasingly positive about.
There is not, however, a Citi Field I love, and that’s too bad.
I’d like to love the home ballpark of my favorite ballclub because it’s supposed to be my home. It is by technicality, but not by heart. I can’t quite throw my arms around Citi Field the way I did Shea Stadium. Neither can I view it — no matter how I attempt to adjust my blue & orange-colored glasses — as a damn sight better than most of its stylistic peers. The grudge I held against its mere existence has mostly melted, yet when I look at it closely I still don’t see a great place to see a ballgame.
Because it’s where the Mets play, I’d like to rank it higher than I do, but I can’t. I don’t love it emotionally and I don’t love it objectively. Yet I keep coming back to it. My actions if not my words will have to stand as my implicit endorsement.
I tend to rank the ballparks I visit as soon as I exit them. Most of them I see only once, and I know I’ll likely never see again. Citi Field is different in that respect. I didn’t rank it right away. In fact, I kept it unranked until I’d finished a full season there, and even now I view its status as relatively provisional. I have a hunch Citi Field will always be a work in progress for me, which is fine. Shea was always going to be the static standard by which I instinctively measured every other ballpark. Citi’s place in my head (and maybe, eventually, my heart) can’t help but be more dynamic. My thoughts on it will be more subject to change than the other 33 parks I’ve seen combined.
But it does have a ranking, which is No. 16 — in the upper half of the ballparks in which I’ve watched one or more games, but behind three handfuls of its predecessors and contemporaries. Such a ranking implies not bad, not great — which seems about right.
I like Citi Field. I don’t love it.
A year ago, it will come as no surprise to inveterate readers of this blog, I would have spit out the part about liking Citi Field through gritted teeth, as I cursed it first for having the nerve to replace what I never wanted replaced and then for doing such a poor job of replacing it. I came home after one of my first games there in a state of absolute crisis over how this place was going to be my ruination as a fan and a blogger — how, I asked Stephanie after about 90 minutes of ranting and lamenting, can I serve my readers if I don’t want to go to that stupid ballpark anymore?
Citi Field and I have come a long way since then.
Nowadays, it’s the other half of the uncharacteristically terse appraisal above that I issue with reluctance. I wish I could say I love Citi Field. I wish I could tell you that all my exposure to it, combined with the time that has passed since Shea Stadium became no more, has brought me to a zone where I feel at one with my ballpark, the only ballpark that’s going to be “my ballpark” for the rest of my life.
Can’t quite do it yet. Can’t quite tell you I love the place. I just don’t. It hasn’t been for lack of trying to get to know it better. It is creeping into my heart, in its way, but my head still rejects it. It has less and less to do with my lingering attachment to Shea and more to do with the sense that Citi simply could have been designed better and could be run better.
How many of the things that bother me about Citi Field would have bothered me had I been just passing through Flushing on a ballpark excursion? I have no idea. But Flushing, Queens isn’t Arlington, Texas to me. On the road, a few things strike me and I move on. Here, I care about everything. It’s personal if it’s the Mets. Thus, nothing has been assessed or graded on a curve in my mind. Leave leniency for RFK Stadium or the Vet. Citi Field should have gotten everything right. It didn’t come close.
But it didn’t screw up completely. If you’re a Mets fan, you understand that not screwing up completely is sometimes as good as it gets.
THE CITI FIELD I CAN’T STAND AND NEVER WILL…
• Eliminated decent mid-priced, mid-level seating. Maybe the Mets wouldn’t be crying about BETTER SEATS and LOWER PRICES if there were actually better seats at lower prices.
• Is short on whimsy and long on clunky.
• Turned a sweet idea about an homage to a dear, departed ballpark into a creepy carbon copy exterior.
• Hovers all around me like it’s going to demand my hall pass.
• Slapped mismatched ads everywhere in sight.
• Picked an awful color for its outfield fence. Black has nothing to do with a Giants tribute (ha). It was just another clumsy attempt to seem different. And it is different…which doesn’t make it any good.
• Engenders claustrophobia in most of its seating bowl.
• Kills any momentum you may gather from coming in the front door by having an escalator lead you almost smack into a brick wall and preventing any immediate glimpse of the green grass once you turn left or right.
• Stuck too many seats in the outfield and didn’t figure out how to make sure you could see enough action from there.
• Encourages guests to act like disengaged patrons instead of rabid fans.
• Had to be pulled kicking and screaming into acknowledging almost anything about the history of the team that plays there.
• Forced idiotic geometry into dimensions that have made the home run an unnecessarily endangered species. (I like triples, but I’ve had it with the endless parade of deep fly balls to nowhere.)
• Shows little in the way of improved personnel training from the edgy days of Shea.
• Includes too many areas that carry an R-rating for Restricted.
• Wastes space with the barren and charmless Bullpen Plaza.
• Forgot to innovate in any meaningful fashion.
• Would be enhanced if a centrally located clock and flagpole had been part of the plan. Those are little things, but little things make a big difference in a ballpark.
• Could not be deader at more inappropriate junctures. A friend and blolleague thinks a Citi Field postseason “will make Shea seem like a monastery inhabited by Trappist monks.” I sincerely doubt that, but I look forward to the chance to help make him look like a prophet.
• Will forever be held back by a rash of crummy sponsor names — starting with the one on the front of the joint — as long as everything about its identity is for sale.
THE CITI FIELD I THINK IS OK…
• Offers expansive (if expensive) food choices and amenable areas in which to enjoy one’s generally delectable selections.
• Saved the scoreboard skyline from Shea and placed it where it could inject some needed personality into what would otherwise be cramped and grim.
• Is navigable enough to decipher by section number in no time at all.
• Stands literally steps away from the 7 train.
• Never leaves you wondering if there’s an ATM around here.
• Lets me loiter on a bridge that allegedly has something to do with there being five boroughs of New York City.
• Is lit by distinctive light stanchions.
• Permits planned and impromptu meetings with friends away from the action, though I’ve pulled back on this option since I’m supposed to be watching baseball at the baseball game.
• Honors a great American and outstanding local ballplayer at its primary entrance even if the noble fellow in question was never a Met.
• Reveals interesting angles of its environs if you peek hard enough despite “enveloping” you within its claustrophobic walls.
• Provides decent Promenade perspectives once you figure out where they are.
• Created a successful signature seating area with the Pepsi Porch, where the promise of “intimacy” seems more or less fulfilled.
• Veers to the modest versus the grandiose, which is worth mentioning because I honestly find this modest ballpark preferable to the grandiose Stadium that opened the same week. Grandiosity has its limits; modesty is capable of pleasant surprise.
THE CITI FIELD OF WHICH I’VE GROWN FOND…
• Once it was dragged kicking and screaming, produced a marvelous museum as well as representative Met decor outside and occasionally inside the ballpark.
• Brought the real Apple out of hiding and made it a front yard centerpiece.
• Installed oversized Topps cards of Mets greats on the first and third base sides of Field Level.
• Christened the Shea Bridge and labeled its VIP entrances after three Very Important People in Mets history (too bad you have to be a VIP to enjoy the displays dedicated to Hodges, Seaver and Stengel).
• Shows me the Mets’ starting lineup as soon as I ascend the Rotunda escalator.
• Gave those who were willing to shell out (or, as in my case, were lucky enough to have somebody willing to shell out on their behalf) a personalized brick that’s always right where you left it.
• Captures my imagination from Section 326 — the money shot, vista-wise, at the ballpark, even if those seats are mostly prohibitive budget-wise.
• Provides me (albeit at $7.50 per cup) a favorite beer in Blue Point Toasted Lager at Catch of the Day…and I’m not really a beer drinker.
• Is the place where I’ve seen the Mets go 40-11 in games that count, including 13 consecutive wins since April 19.
• Has been the setting for dozens of wonderful interactions with dozens of wonderful people who share with me, at the very least, this one particular passion and probably more than that.
Back when word came down that Shea Stadium was on the clock and a new ballpark would rise to take its place, my co-blogger wrote off the old place in one swift, unsentimental stroke, citing as his Shea memories “good ones by the bushelful, but for me they’re bound up with the people (in player uniform and fan uniform), with precious little left over for the place.”
I got what Jason was saying, no matter how much I disagreed with his verdict that turning Shea into a parking lot “sounds like a vast improvement” — but now I really get it. I have lots of apparently intractable problems with Citi Field, but I’ve experienced more than a year-and-a-half of instant classic moments, innings, afternoons and evenings there, because of the people I’m sitting with and the people I’m cheering for. As long as I have both, Citi Field is only going to mean more to me.
It’s home. Eventually home, like family, gets graded on a curve. Just not yet.
ONE FAN’S TOP FIVE CITI FIELD GAMES:
1. Chris Carter’s pinch-double in his Met debut keys a six-run, eighth-inning come-from-behind rally and Ike Davis’s tumbling catch over the Met dugout railing preserves a rollicking 8-6 win over the Nationals. Stephanie and I celebrate the 23rd anniversary of the night we met by dining at the Acela Club, but mostly by winning 8-6. (5/11/2010)
2. Henry Blanco ends a long, windy and intriguing afternoon by homering in the eleventh inning off ex-Met Guillermo Mota to beat the Giants 5-4. Joe and I embrace for only the second time I can recall at the end of a game after going to games together for nearly 20 years — the last such occurrence was also against San Francisco, when Bobby Jones clinched the 2000 National League Division Series. (5/8/2010)
3. Nelson Figueroa does what he can to erase the bitterness inherent in a lost Met season by twirling a four-hit 4-0 shutout at the Astros on Closing Day. Jim and I temporarily abandon our lovely wives to take advantage of our first mutual access to the Caesars Club concourse bars and decide it’s as ideal a set-up as we had hoped it would be. (10/4/2009)
4. Jon Niese is almost spotless, throwing a 3-0 one-hitter past the Padres to win the second half of a day-night doubleheader. Entering the ninth, Kevin and I agree we’d be a lot more anxious if one fewer hit had been allowed earlier, yet we were pretty nervous about preserving this non-no-hitter because we’re Mets fans and one-hitters may be the most we ever get to fret about. (6/10/2010)
5. I’m not exactly sure, but the basic ingredients would likely be the same as above: a resounding Mets win, some superb Mets company and another in a burgeoning portfolio of memories that allows me to call this ballpark my very own.
And what fun it shall be to extend this list in the years to come.